Paths to Global Chemical Safety: The 2020 Goal and Beyond

While acknowledging that significant progress has been made under existing agreements, including the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), Paths to Global Chemical Safety: The 2020 Goal and Beyond concludes that the four principal international agreements in force – the Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam Conventions and SAICM – are not adequate, even if fully implemented, to protect human health and the environment from the risks of dangerous chemicals.

The current system of narrow treaties focused on individual chemicals, narrow subsets of chemicals, and/or specific moments in a chemical’s lifecycle is unsustainable. An earlier report by CIEL, Driving Innovation, shows that stronger laws at the global level spurs innovation of safer alternatives, creating a safer marketplace for consumers and opening markets for businesses. Paths to Global Chemical Safety calls for the creation of a new comprehensive chemicals regime to protect people and the environment from hazardous substances. Only 22 hazardous chemicals – of possible thousands – are currently managed throughout their lifecycle at the global level.

The political and economic landscape was vastly different forty years ago when governments first recognized the links between chemicals and serious adverse impacts on health and wildlife, with the potential for trans-boundary harms. The UNEP Global Chemicals Outlook shows that the chemical industry has steadily expanded and will continue to do so, both in terms of the quantity of chemicals in commerce and uses for these chemicals. Moreover, production is increasingly shifting to emerging economies like China, which now leads in bulk chemical production, and developing countries whose systems for sound chemicals management are still being developed.

The report proposes two options to achieve a global chemicals regime that would have the breadth and rigor to address the issues. The first approach uses existing agreements and programs, suggesting changes to improve their effectiveness, broaden the range of chemicals covered and develop compliance procedures and adequate financial resources. The second, preferred approach anticipates a new, legally binding framework to bring greater coherence, coverage and coordination to international chemicals management.

The report’s findings and recommendations were presented at a workshop on global chemicals management in Washington, DC and a briefing in the European Parliament on March 26, 2013.